The intercostal muscles are the side-body muscles that connect the ribs. Poor posture over time tightens these muscles, restricting movement and even respiration. Counter-balancing the tightening and shortening of the intercostal muscles will consequently improve breathing! So, opening up the side body helps with respiratory problems. Ah, take a deep breath (bring your attention to your intercostal muscles that are working for you) and sigh it all out!
4 Poses to Subtly Open Your Intercostal Muscles
1. Seated Side Body Pose, The Warm Up
I love to practice and teach this pose in a symmetrical seated posture as opposed to cross-legged (this stems from years of trying to work out right and left body imbalances).
Sit on a block or even a rolled blanket with your heels just below your hips and the legs parallel in front of you.
Stretch your arms overhead and interlace your fingers. (If you interlace the same direction each time, try reversing the cross from time to time, create balance). Point your pointer fingers to the sky.
Keeping both hips evenly rooted down, on an inhalation stretch your arms upward, grow tall in your spine. Send your tailbone toward the back of your mat (so neutralize your spine if you are back bending), and keep your lower ribs tucked in.
As you exhale, lean your upper body to the right and feel the stretch alongside your left side body. Repeat on the opposite side.
2. Seated Side Body Bound Angle, The Bind
The binding in this posture allows for a bit more leverage. Again, I love the symmetry of the legs with asymmetry up top!
Elevate your hips by sitting on the edge of a folded blanket (especially if you have tightness in your low back!). Allow your knees to bend, making a diamond shape with the soles of your feet touching.
Send your right forearm to the mat, binding underneath your right calf as you exhale. Plant your right palm on the mat and use this grounding to stay even through both hips. With an inhalation, stretch your opposite arm overhead, with the palm facing down.
Relax your head and neck in a neutral position as you feel the stretch in your left side body. Repeat on the opposite side. (Picking up on the theme here?!)
3. Standing Side Body Pose, Trikonasana
I love to practice and teach this pose with a block to set a comfortable foundation. There are so many aspects to this pose: hamstring opening, heart opening, shoulder stacking.. side body opening as well!
Start from a standing posture and take a big step, separating your feet. Align your feet in a 1-Track Stance. The toes on your right foot point forward, the toes of your left foot pivot out to a 90 degree angle. The heel of your right foot lines up with the arch of your left foot. Press through the balls of both feet while lifting your arches and equally rooting through the pinky-toe edge of each foot.
Avoid locking your knees back, but rather engage the muscles of your legs by lifting your knee caps. Feel your firm foundation!
With your arms out at a “T”, lean toward the right allowing your right hand to come to the block on the outside of your right foot, as you exhale. With an inhalation, press down into the block with your hand and allow your left arm to reach toward the sky, the palm faces forward. Expand through the front of your body!
Keep your hips in a line and avoid letting one hip stick out back behind you.
Feeling your feet, legs, arms engaged (head and neck in a neutral position) allow your body to stack open, heart opening. Feel the stretch in both sides of your body! Repeat on the opposite side. wooo!
4. Side Body Opening Pose, The Restorative
This just wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t post at least 1 Restorative Yoga pose! (I love Restorative Yoga!!, See how happy my face looks in the photo below!?)
1 large bloster (optional)
Long-fold 1 blanket (from an unfolded blanket, fold in half fringe to fringe, fold in half again fringe to fringe, fold in half 2 more times fold to fringe).
Roll 2 blankets within each other to make 1 very large rolled blanket (or use a small round bolster, if you have it!).
Place the rolled blanket under your side body, allowing your right hip and right shoulder to come to mat. Place the block under your head and allow your bones to stack evenly. Shoulders, hands, hips, knees and ankles — all stack. Use the long-fold blanket between your knees and heels to keep them parallel. Rest in this posture, allowing the props to absorb the weight of your body, from 5 – 20 minutes. Repeat on the opposite side!
Variation: For additional side body opening, place a large bolster at the top of your mat. Allow your top arm to outstretch above your head and rest on the bolster. Make sure the shoulders stay stacked in this variation.
Aaaaand you are breathing deeper, mindfully aware of the intercostal side-body muscles that connect the ribs! Inhale as the ribs lift, exhale as the ribs settle downward. Practice 1 or all of the postures in this sequence at the beginning, middle, or end of your day to promote balance within and around.